Thursday, July 30, 2009

continuity and change

back in the city of my birth and quite vela for a change. thumbs up for the people, weather, time, sleep and FOOD; thumbs down for the roads, traffic, howling wolves at night, asshole shopkeeper who only wanted firangs in his stupid handicraft shop (please do not ever go to Habitat on Infantry Road, Bangalore 560001 - why the fuck am i shopping for handicrafts anyway: gifts for blasted firangs), OBLIGATIONS (both self- and other-imposed). not sure whether i am missing the frisson of transgression, but i could swear that the heavens opened up and a host of heavenly angels sang triumphant hosannas when newly recognised rights were vindicated (my protestant education reasserts itself strongly in this city of my birth). it's interesting what changes and what doesn't. ugly ass building up right next to the house we used to live in, almost touching my bedroom wall - such a grotesque sight. k. c. das still serves the best mishti dohi in the world and ALL the same people work there, but they've gone all international in the foyer: the name of the shop is in bengali, hindi, gujarati, kannada, tamil, telugu, hebrew, russian, chinese, arabic. koshy's is the same, even the same people (thank god - there would be no point coming back if it wasn't). the magazine man recognised me. but premier bookshop has gone and THAT has changed the landscape of the city of my birth irretrievably. this was the first bookshop i ever developed any sort of relationship with. not just me, but four generations of my family. it was down the road from the house we lived in. all the kids in the family treated it like a library, and when we did buy, we got totally random 20% discounts. i'm not sure if mr. shanbagh had a system, but he would just look at you and scribble a completely arbitrary figure on the receipt, well below the marked price. to the best of my knowledge, he never overcharged anyone, so it was never clear to me how the place ran. it had all the best books in the WORLD that were ever worth having and didn't seem to lose any business to the much bigger but less exciting gangarams or higgenbothams just around the corner. the shop itself was the most chaotic store ever known to MAN, WOMAN or SILVERFISH. you would never find anything you wanted (you had to ask mr. shanbagh, who invariably knew exactly where it was), but you often chanced upon things you didn't know you wanted. when that happened, you had to ask mr. shanbagh because if you tried to pull a book out of a PILE (this was possibly the only bookshop on the planet where, for the most part, the books were not arranged on shelves: they were piled up on the ground), so anyway, if you tried to pull a book out of a pile, thirty-seven would come crashing down and people would turn to stare at you. it would have been wonderful to see my book hidden in one of those piles, but that is not to be. a small part of the universe has shut down forever.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Reactions to Naz Foundation v. Union of India

Hours after the Delhi High Court delivered its verdict, I wrote to verbalprivilege saying that this was Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, and Lawrence v. Texas, all rolled into one. I said it without thinking very much about why I thought this, but Lawrence Liang says pretty much the same thing while putting his finger, characteristically, on why this is so:

The real success of Wade, Brown and Naz foundation can then be measured not only by their contribution to democratic ethos or the Jurisprudence that they inaugurate but by the tears that they provoke. The spontaneous outburst of emotion on the pronouncement of the Delhi High Court, the tears of joy that people had while listening to the judgment in Court hall No. 1 of the Delhi High court, or from people following it on the news, the telephone calls with people wishing each other happy Independence Day after the judgement – these are the things that legendary cases like Wade and Brown are made of. And these are all the ingredients that seemed to be present in the Naz foundation decision. When was the last time you remember crying about a constitutional decision? Naz foundation decision has also enabled the rekindling of our romance with a text whose recent career has left one a little brokenhearted – the constitution. Justice Pathak in Kesavananda Bharati says that “the constitution is not an arena of quibbling by lawyers with long persons. It is a Heritage or possession and it should be the object of your love”.

See also reactions from Vikram Raghavan and Kajal Bharadwaj. All NLS alumni, I can't resist adding. I am still crying too much to say anything vaguely dispassionate and analytical.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

for NLS

I have spent most of the day processing this: the Delhi High Court read down section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, so that it no longer proscribes adult consensual same-sex activity. I tried writing something coherent by way of a reaction to this, but the words seemed too trite to capture the enormity of what this tiny, partial, provisional, interim legal victory means. There will be time for coherence and reflection and planning and strategy, but that time is not now, not tonight. For now, all I can do is to remember people and places that got me from self-doubt to coming out to being proud despite illegality and family shenanigans and broken relationships. And in that long long list, there is one place that comes up again and again in all sorts of guises, a place I have never been sentimental about, a place I barely invested in in the five years that I was there, but which now looms larger than life in restrospect: National Law School. This is the place that gave me - and there is really no other less old-fashioned word for it - courage. Courage to live as if the law didn't matter, which is an ironic thing for a law school to do. And I can't even construct a coherent narrative about how it did that because I was barely conscious of it at the time, but it's an itinerary that passes through gender studies circle and 'pseudoness' and late night chats and film festivals and MA's 'travelling circus' and a sociology project that I really didn't want to do but ended up being unexpectedly prescient and amicus briefs at placements that never got used (or maybe they did?!) and my gorgeous cousin MG who walked the path first and seniors like AN who politely inserted the issue at every possible opportunity and juniors like TK who showed that leadership and electoral office were not beyond our reach (I was not yet part of this 'our' being, at the time, genuinely confused but absorbing, subliminally, that it was possible to live this life without fleeing to other jurisdictions) and the amazingly straight-supporting lenjgang who were family in the darkest days after we'd graduated. Here was a place that operated like a bubble in the best possible way, almost in defiance of how the outside world thought. I am valorising it of course because it was as much a battleground as a bubble, but there was enough space for the construction of these alternative worlds in which half-thoughts lay buried that would only germinate in other times and places. At least that's how it worked for me. I was so privileged to be there and I would have been a completely different person today if I had not. It does not surprise me in the least that a significant number of counsel for the petitioners are NLS alumni. If you're reading this and can recognise anything I'm talking about, thank you for helping me.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?